The Year of Pieter Bruegel

Pieter Bruegel produced unique works which are still easily recognised today. They reflect the reality of the 16th Century in northern Europe – and that was often brutal.

Brussels and Bruegel will forever be associated. He undertook some of his most important works there and he is buried in the city. He had needed to be closer to his benefactors, so moved there in 1563.  Bruegel is widely regarded as the 16th century’s greatest artist of this region, a region which was so inspirational, a full two-thirds of his forty paintings being executed there!

Pieter Bruegel specialised in paintings of local peasants.  These were not the tranquil chocolate-box scenes of rosy-cheeked milkmaids and handsome farmer lads. Bruegel would join wedding party groups in order to sketch the merrymakers in their revels.  These were depictions of the harsh reality of life at that time. There are few attractive faces but plenty of oblique mocking of the establishments, both political and religious. There is pathos and irony aplenty, but also just a few calmer views of landscapes. His winter scenes are particularly beautiful: The Hunters in the Snow convinces the viewer that they can actually hear the crunch of frost underfoot.

Virtual-reality technology


2019 is the 450th anniversary of the death of the painter, and Flanders celebrates Pieter Bruegel with a spectacular series of exhibitions and events. In Gaasbeek Castle (read my review here), the visitor will find contemporary work inspired by Bruegel. Built in 1381, the Halle Gate was part of the defensive walls that enclosed Brussels and is impressive in its own right. This historic fortification offers a chance to step back in time into Bruegel’s world. The 16th century was a turbulent time of war and change, but thanks to virtual-reality technology, one can travel into the heart of the paintings of Pieter Bruegel. The exhibition contains items from the Brussels Royal Museum of Art and History, and is at the top of the building, with a panoramic view over Brussels. Take a look through the virtual-reality glasses and transport yourself to Brussels in the sixteenth century. This isn’t for the fainthearted and my advice would be – don’t look down!

From Friday, October 18, 2019 to Sunday, October 18, 2020

Halle Gate
Zuidlaan 150
1000 Brussels

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